Laverne and Shirley was a classic sitcom that, in many ways, was ahead of its time. If nothing else it incorporated two female leads. And they weren’t simply housewives who existed solely to push forward the storylines of the male characters. They were funny, they were independent, and they had agency. This might not seem that strange in the modern era, but in the 1970’s it was much more of a rarity. And Laverne and Shirley isn’t considered a classic sitcom simply by virtue of female leads. It was a brilliantly written show with excellent acting. In this video, we’re taking a closer look at the show, and unearthing some lesser-known things about it. So join Facts Verse, as we present: Little-Known Laverne & Shirley Facts That You Probably Missed
A Wandering Script
In 1974 there was a sitcom called Paul Sand in Friends & Lovers. It was about a classical musician in Boston who was unlucky in love. The lead, Robert Dreyfuss was played by Paul Sand, and his sister-in-law was played by Penny Marshall. The show was ultimately a failure, and only lasted a few months. But it indirectly had a huge influence on the world of television. One episode, written by future Happy Days writers Mark Rothman and Lowell Ganz, had Dreyfuss trying to flirt with several women as he shopped at a supermarket. But, since the producers felt that the script for that episode made the main character look too dorky, it wasn’t ever used. But oddly enough, it saw the light of day later on. Penny’s brother, Garry Marshall, was running the show he’d recently created, Happy Days. Garry’s mom had been on him to find Penny a character in the show. With that in mind, Garry approached Rothman and Ganz about using elements of their unused script from Paul Sand in Friends & Lovers, and potentially having Penny play a part in the resulting episode. The two writers came back with the script for the Happy Days episode, “A Date with Fonzie.” In it, the Fonz consults his little black book full of women, and contacts two ‘loose’ ones for a double date with Richie. His goal is to help Richie out, since he’d been having no luck with women as of late.) The two women were named “Laverne DeFazio” and “Shirley Feeney” and were played by Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams. They nailed the performance, and the audience immediately fell in love with them. And the rest is history.
More script recycling
That wasn’t the only instance of unrelated scripts being a part of the Laverne and Shirley lore. In 1966, Garry Marshall created and put out a show called “Hey, Landlord.” And while it had the genius of Marshall behind it, as well as a killer theme song from music legend Quincy Jones, the show was a failure, and was quickly cancelled. However, Garry always had a knock for hanging on to material he felt was high quality, and using it later when appropriate. Such was the case with scripts from Hey, Landlord. When Marshall had a need to material for Laverne and Shirley, he would just pull entire scripts from Hey, Landlord. And why not? He owned the rights to both shows! One example was the episode of Laverne and Shirley called “Guinea Pigs” that was first the script for the episode “Testing… One, Two” of Hey, Landlord. It even utilized the same name for a supplemental character, Dr. Sandor.
The Godfather Connection
Legendary director Francis Ford Coppola is not known for comedy. His hit films, like The Godfather, are amazing, but certainly not a barrel of laughs. And yet in the mid-1970’s, Coppola found himself working on a spoof movie called “My Country Tis of Thee.” The bicentennial of the country was approaching, and Coppola thought a send up of that would be a nice departure from his other work. He managed to put together a crack team of comedy writers for it. That list included comedy legends like Steve Martin, Harry Shearer, and Martin Mull, as well as future Laverne and Shirley stars, Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams. When Garry Marshall was looking for a duo to play Laverne and Shirley in that episode of Happy Days, he already knew he wanted his sister Penny for one of the roles. So when he found out from Penny that Cindy Williams was a talented writer and comedic performer, he knew his search to cast the roles was finished.
It’s not every day that a silly rhyme from someone’s childhood becomes an all time pop culture reference. As anyone who’s seen Laverne and Shirley can attest to, the slightly silly and fun to recite hopscotch chant that the titular duo recite at the beginning of the show, before the theme song stars, included the phrase, “Schlemiel! Schlimazel, Hasenpfeffer incorporated.” And for most people, only one of those words made any sense. According to Cindy Williams, the origin of the chant wasn’t the writers room, nor the actors improvising on the spot. Instead, that chant came from Penny Marshall’s childhood. She and her friends used to recite it on the street. And when they were trying to come up with something for Laverne and Shirley to chant, Garry asked Penny to teach Cindy the “little ditty you used to do on the way to school.” Penny agreed, and that quirky little chant became embedded permanently into one of the most popular sitcoms in history. Maybe people also wonder about the meanings of the words themselves. Schlemiel and schlimazel are actually both Yiddish words. A schlemiel is a person who is innately clumsy. A schlimazel is someone who’s simply unlucky. And they are often used together. In Yiddish lore, they are often used to describe two people in an unfortunate situation with soup: The schlemiel is a person who spills his soup on another person at dinner, while the schlimazel is the person it gets spilled on. And Hasenpfeffer is a kind of German stew with rabbit in it. So, why these words all ended up jammed together in a hopscotch chant is anyone’s guess.
Lenny And Squiggy predated the show
Michael McKean and David Lander are perhaps best known for their portrayal of the hilarious Lenny and Squiggy. And when they were introduced to the world of Laverne and Shirley, most people likely assumed they were original creations of the show’s writers. Which is technically true. That’s because McKean and Lander were writers on the show before entering as actors. Prior to that, they went to college together at Carnegie Mellon University, and were in a comedy troupe together knowns as the Credibility Gap. While in that troupe, they came up with the characters of Lenny and Squiggy, and utilized them for live sketches. So when the two were later hired to be writers for Laverne and Shirley, they realized it might be a perfect opportunity to revive the two characters and try them out on the show. And the two characters became immediate fan favorites.
A familiar apartment
Studios have limited space to film their shows, and limited space to store the sets when they aren’t in use. As such, they often resort to reusing set pieces when they think they can get away with it. This was the case with the apartment where Laverne and Shirley lived. The inside of the apartment was actually the recycled set of the classic show, The Odd Couple. Of course, they redecorated it to fit the needs of Laverne and Shirley. But eagle-eyed viewers can spot the physical similarities between the two, especially in the entryways.
Fans likely gagged at home whenever they saw Laverne drinking her drink of choice: Pepsi Milk. But, like the hopscotch chant at the beginning, this character choice was something Penny Marshall brought in from her childhood years. When she was young, she would ask her mom if she could have a glass of soda. But her mom wanted to make sure she also drank milk. So they compromised. Penny would be allowed to drink soda as long as she downed a glass of milk. Of course, being a kid, Penny still didn’t want to drink the whole glass of milk. So, to make it go down smoother, she began putting a bit of soda on whatever milk was left in the glass. Surprisingly, she found this combo to be delightful. So she kept doing it. And then she decided to keep that choice going as a character trait for Laverne. It might sound gross to most people, but when you think about it, it’s kind of the same as an ice cream float, right?
The Theme Song
Usually, theme songs from famous shows are catchy and memorable, but they just remain theme songs. We hear them whenever we watch the show, and that’s about it. But occasionally, the song is so good and so popular, that it actually is released as a single. Such was the case with “Making Our Dreams Come True” by Cyndi Grecco. It was produced by the wife of famed crooner Jose Feliciano’s, Janna Merlyn Feliciano. The label Private Stock put out the song and it ended up reaching number 25 on the Billboard charts!
Laverne and Shirley was an important show in the history of sitcoms, but more importantly it was a funny one. And it has had a lasting effect on pop culture history. Many people fondly remember the hopscotch chant in the opening, and the classic theme song that came after it. And it produced memorable supplemental characters like Lenny and Squiggy. It starred people, like Penny Marshall, who went on to become Hollywood titans. And it was all started by Garry Marshall, one of the greatest producer/directors of all time. Not to mention the fact that it was culturally progressive for having two independent female leads.
Now it’s time to hear from you. Did you know any of these little-known facts about Laverne and Shirley? Let us know in the comments section below!